By Sue Pascoe
The statewide YMCA Youth and Government program operates under the slogan, “Democracy Must Be Learned by Every Generation.”
In 2012, only 11 girls participated in the model legislature and court program in Pacific Palisades. This year, 82 local high school students flew to Sacramento on Feb. 16 to participate in a five-day conference that promotes public speaking and civic engagement. (Except for one student from Crossroads, the rest attend Palisades High School). The Palisades-Malibu YMCA contingent was just one of 50 delegations that participated.
The 3,000 participating students took over the U.S. Capitol and state court house. They passed bills and debated possible legislature. Those in the court, argued and heard cases. Some students participated in additional program areas including broadcast and print media, lobbying, the Board of Education, political parties and debating national issues.
This year there were several standouts from the Palisades delegation, including Whitney Neumann, who sponsored a bill that was passed by both legislative houses. The bill, if passed into law, would have made it a requirement for seniors to take a driving test at 75 years of age and each five years thereafter.
Palisades-Malibu YMCA delegate Eric Halperin was elected speaker pro-tempore. Caleb Crain ran for forum chief clerk of the assembly and Gus Wortman ran for chief clerk of the assembly.
Kaveh Majd and Neku Dorri served as legislative committee chairs. Jake Takakjian, who was selected for Supreme Court, also ran for chief justice. Maude Tipton was appointed to the governor’s cabinet.
Alicia Abramson was selected to develop a new program, “Issues and Activism,” that simulates political parties, but also brings the idea of activism and social service back to the communities where the delegates live.
Several Palisades-Malibu YMCA delegates applied to a summer program, the Conference on National Affairs, that is the national version of the state program.
Maude Tipton and Eric Halperin were selected to attend, and will travel to North Carolina and join delegates from across the country. The students will debate and develop propositions regarding national issues.
“At this conference, I was able to learn so much about our government and humanity, and through all that, I found myself,” sophomore delegate Zachary Garai said. “Because of this program, I see the world through a different lens.”
Volunteer advisors, who had been attending the group’s weekly meetings at Palisades High School since September and who also traveled with the delegation to two weekend conferences in Fresno, accompanied the students.
Said Palisades-Malibu delegation president Lily Emerson, a senior: “Youth and Government has allowed me to grow into a more confident person and shown me my passions, but most importantly, shown me that I can make changes in other people’s lives and not just my own.”
The program was founded in the mid-1930s by Clement “Pete” Duran, an Albany, New York YMCA director, who wanted to find a way for youth to become active participants in government. He developed a hands on, learning-by-participation model to help youth learn how community problems are solved through the democratic process.
The six-month program was initiated in 1948 in California with support from Governor Earl Warren, and has been supported by each successive governor.
The program is open to all high school students, private and public. Initially, the group met weekly at the YMCA on Via de la Paz, but with its growth and the need for a larger space, the delegation now meets weekly at PaliHi.
YMCA Executive Director Jim Kirtley said, “This program changes these teens lives in an enormously positive way.”
Visit calymca.org or call Palisades-Malibu YMCA (310) 454-5591 for more information.